The Good, The Bad and The Weird From The 2015 Dallas International Film Festival.
For five years now, we've been going to the Dallas International Film festival. And while it's been fun seeing the festival grow and change over that stretch and in the nine years since it first popped onto the scene, this year's affair felt a little different from previous editions.
For one thing, we didn't really leave any screening this year feeling especially disappointed by what we'd seen. No, not everything was a slam dunk — this was definitely one of those years where you had to dig deep to find some of the best stuff — but, on some level, even the not-great films we screened boasted a few redeeming qualities. That's a positive sign, no doubt.
Also positive? That, even though it somewhat expected to be the case, the documentaries we caught at DIFF '15 were among our favorite entries into this 10-day-long film binge. Same goes with the short films, which were this year presented like a great mixtape by programmer Sarah Harris.
If there's one gripe we have, though, it's that this year's affair felt somewhat tame. The genre and late-night screenings we managed to catch didn't fully live up to our hopes — and, in turn, the efforts made in this regard failed to bring much diversity to the festival's flavor. It would've been nice to have seen a little more eccentricity in the programming, for sure.
But enough about the festival at large. What of the specific films we saw? Which caught our interest? Which threw us through a loop? Which left us wishing we'd seen something else instead? Below, we tackle all of those questions by taking a look at the good, the bad and the just-plain-weird of the 2015 Dallas International Film Festival. Check it out.
Cartel Land. This gripping documentary is one of the most intense viewing experiences I've had all year — at DIFF or otherwise. It follows two vigilante groups from the U.S. and Mexico as they try to fight the problem of the drug cartels and the violence they inflict on the community and the border. Focusing mostly on the Mexican group the Autodefensas as they go from a small group to a state-wide movement, Cartel Land's a sobering look at the complexity of the drug trafficking problem. It includes some insane shoot-out, torture and death scenes, too. Oh, and the film was recently picked up by A&E, so you should be able to watch it sooner than later. — JF
Fresh Dressed. I'm not what you would call a hip-hop expert, but I'm not blind to the fact that hip-hop is closely intertwined with fashion and that, as one has evolved, so too has the other. Fresh Dressed is an interesting look into this phenomenon, and it features some big rap and fashion industry names speaking on how urban fashion has evolved from leather jackets being customized for gang affiliations to Diddy's Sean John line winning prestigious fashion awards. Given that cultural appropriation has become such a hot-button subject of late, it's a bit of a shame that this film never dives too deep into this issue. But it's still a fun and informative watch. — JF
Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made. Getting lost in adventure films is a memory many of us share from our youths. But Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos took their childhood love of adventure far beyond the rest of us: They spent seven years recreating the entire Raiders of the Lost Ark film, frame by frame, using their homes, friends, makeshift props and borrowed equipment in the process. And they were fairly successful, too: They remade the whole dang thing — well, except for the epic airplane scene. This documentary catches up with the twosome as they regroup and attempt to finish the job. But, as they begin to find out, making a big(ger)-budget film that isn't set in their mothers' basements is a far more difficult task than expected. This film has so much nostalgia to it, but what makes it great is the heart it has for its subjects. It's a film about dreams, ambition and never giving up — a message many of us need as adults. — AJ
The Look of Silence. A few years ago, Joshua Oppenheimer dropped the documentary The Act of Killing on our doorsteps. That film showed us the military men who had taken over Indonesia and killed anyone who opposed them — and in a truly shocking way. Oppenheimer convinced those very men to recreate their mass murders. The result was very hard-to-watch but important film. Now, Oppenheimer is back with Silence, which serves as a sort of second chapter to this series. Here, a brother of a victim from those attacks is followed a on a search for restitution from his brother's killers. Though it just focuses on one family's story, Silence is a tale for anyone who lost a loved one during this hostile takeover. When outsiders read about incidents like this, it's easy to forget there are real people involved. Silence brings a face to this tragedy. — AJ
This Isn't Funny. This film's squarely in the realm of scripted movies featuring twentysomethings who are looking for meaning in their lives while they balance love and work. It's easy to not think twice about a film like this, but This Isn't Funny is a fresh take. Its main characters, Elliot and Jamie, are simply two people, who, through very funny circumstances, begin a relationship. They seem perfect for each other at first, but as the film goes on, we begin to see that this may not be the right time for them to be together. Instead of a bunch of cliche plot points, we see how circumstances can bring people together, split them up and still result in a relatively happy ending. Also, this film is really funny, despite its name. — AJ
Closer to God. This film tries to be this modern update to Frankenstein while also adding in themes of cloning and morality in science. Only, uh, it never really wants actually explore the very issues it raises. It's more into extended scenes of crying babies and news footage with common folk voicing their opinions loudly for and against cloning. The whole story is kicked off when a scientist announces that, by using some of his own DNA and some from a host mother, he has created the first human clone, a girl named Elizabeth. This movie has all of the makings of an interesting sci-fi movie, but it doesn't feel like it's brave enough to be controversial. — JF
Don't Look in the Basement 2. This is a weird one, the sequel for a movie that came out 30 years ago — and one that wasn't necessarily screaming for a follow-up at that. I really can't imagine why this would actually make it into the festival program, except for the fact that it was a Dallas-based production starring a local actor Andrew Seinseng (Upstream Color). Given Seinseng's previous work, I'm gonna place most of this film's failings onto the script. The dialogue was awkward, and the acting of it was so obvious. On the horror side, there are some neat kills and gore sequences to be had. But that's about it. — JF
The Blues Brothers. To be clear: This isn't a bad review of the classic film. Rather, my issue is with the audience. I'll bite the bullet here and admit that I hadn't yet seen this one, so I figured that a 35mm screening with director John Landis in attendance would've been a great introduction. Only, well, the mostly adult crowd spent the majority of the film talking loudly and singing along off-key to the various songs. It was bad, you guys. I had to tell the couple behind me to be quiet three separate times because one of them insisted on repeatedly pointing out the “obscure” artists in the film (Aretha Franklin isn't obscure, pal) to his partner. Mr. Landis, should you read this, please allow me to apologize on behalf of my fellow moviegoers at this showing. I assure you: We're not all this rude. — JF
The Wolfpack. As a film, The Wolfpack is a pretty standard documentary. In it, director Crystal Moselle films the day-to-day activities of the Angulo family that lives in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She doesn't do any fancy camera tricks or reenact dramatic times the family has had. But the story she stumbled upon is one of the weirdest in recent memory: The Angulo family, which comprises of eight siblings, a mom and a dad, rarely interacts with society. And by “rarely,” I mean that they only venture out from their house a few times a year. Otherwise, they stay cooped up in their apartment, watching and recreating their favorite movies. Eventually, though, one of the boys begins to question their father's almost tyrannical thoughts and rules. As the film goes on and Moselle gets more information about their lives, it's astounding to see the type of environment this family grew up in. What follows is a journey of exploration and discovery for these children as they begin to find their own way in the world. — AJ
Turbo Kid. Not only was this the best of the midnight movies I saw, but it was also one of the best movies of the festival. It's part of that modern-retro subgenre that's been gaining in popularity of late, and it's got the right mix of gratuitous (and humorous) violence, not to mention a cheesy synth soundtrack and some great world-building. It takes place in the dystopian future of 1993, where a nuclear disaster has poisoned the water and forced the population to turn to scavenging. We follow the titular character as he tries to survive the harsh world and fight off a criminal overlord. It's great: There are Power Gloves, gladiator fights, arm-wrestling matches and, of course, high-speed bicycle chases. In other words: It's got everything you could ever want! — JF